Saturday, June 18, 2005

Le Figaro - EL'Union s'enferme dans la politique de l'autruche:
"The six countries that decided to defer their referenda (Great Britain, Ireland, Denmark, The Czech Republic, Portugal and probably Luxembourg) have made the right choice. For the remainder, it is the ostrich policy which prevails: "the process of ratification must continue", pleads Jean-Claude Juncker...

"The most realistic plan B consists not in renegotiatiating the text, an exercise that nobody wishes to start again as it was so painful, but to select the Constitution's most consensual innovations and make them come into effect...

"But politically nobody is ready to endorse it. 'It is too early. The corpse of the Constitution is still too warm', speculates a senior official. 'It should be given at least a year, until the beast has really cooled, before starting to dissect it out of sight.'"
(Approx. summarised highlights)

A Fistful of Euros - You’d Better Move On:
"more than a clash between ’Europeans’ and ’Free Marketeers’, this is a question of what kind of relationship people expect between citizens and government and between government and ’market forces’."
And much other goodness.

Is there a crisis? Not yet, there ain't...

Le Monde seems to think there's one already and - perhaps unsurprisingly - thinks it's all Tony's fault. The New York Times seems to be rather more anti-Chirac.

From that NYT article, Luxembourg's somewhat hysterical Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker once again resorting to hyperbole and nonsense:

"People will tell you that Europe is not in crisis. It is in a deep crisis."
I'm afraid, Mr Juncker, that I'm going to be one of those people. After all, considering Britain now has potential allies in this budget battle - the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Finland - and the EU can chug by on prior financial agreements for a fair while, the only "crisis" seems to be a difference of opinion. Which I'd say is fairly healthy.

Well, I suppose that some of the hypocritical name-calling reported by the BBC are less so (I'm looking at you, Jacques - "pathetic" and "arrogant" indeed...). And EU Rota's reports of more silliness at the summit - including apparent attempts by Juncker to bribe other countries to resist Britain's demands - are also hardly what you'd expect from a meeting of 25 heads of state. (Hysterical and a crook - a nice way to go down in history there Jean-Claude.)

It would obviously have been nice - and certainly would have been sensible - to come to some agreement over the last couple of days, but the fact that they only set aside such a short period of time would tend to suggest they all knew it would be a fairly pointless exercise from the get-go. As Carl Bildt points out,
"A few months ago, no one really expected even a chance of a deal already at this meeting. And there is ample time before 2007 to take the crucial decisions."
The only person it's really a crisis for (beyond the somewhat hysterical Juncker, who knows that his presidency of the EU will now be regarded by history as a failure) is actually Chirac.

As Bildt also notes, Germany will probably go to the polls on 18th September, at which point Chancellor Schröder will be out on his arse, and Chirac will have lost his best - perhaps only - international buddy. France will almost certainly get increasingly isolated within the EU as Schröder's likely replacement, Angela Merkel, has already begun to cosy up to Blair, suggesting one of those occasional shifts in dynamics that international relations occasionally undergo.

Diplomacy is about personalities as much as it is about policies.

Schröder's almost certainly gone in three months. Chirac is likely to follow him out of office in 2007, has been unpopular at home and abroad throughout his presidency, and post-referendum is even more of a lame duck than he was before.

Blair - as much as these facts may be distasteful - has just been returned to office with a sizable majority and is best mates with the most powerful man in the world. He may be going at some point too, but unlike Jacques and Gerhard - where the dates are all but set - only Tony knows when Tony goes.

This gives BLair the edge as he could - just about - hang on to power for the best part of the next five years. A terrifying prospect, but a plausible one if that time would enable him to refound the EU and secure himself a place in the history books as "saviour of Europe" rather than "lapdog of Dubya".

The balance of power is shifting in Britain's favour, and the argument is gradually falling Britain's way - because, let's face it, a British rebate of around £3 billion a year is rather easier to swallow than annual French agricultural subsidies of around £7 billion. The longer this little spat can be drawn out, the worse off France will be, as the more people will start to make direct comparisons. When they do that, they start to see Britain's point - even if they don't agree about the rebate, they can see that France's preferential treatment is outdated and unfair.

Where Britain has been kept on the fringe for decades by a combination of her own and French reluctance for London to have more of a say in the running of the EU, now that whole "Heart of Europe" thing which has been promised for so long has the potential - just - to become reality.

If Blair can hold out until the end of September (no trouble at all, especially with Britain holding the EU presidency), then Chirac's loss of his German buddy will almost certainly significantly alter the entire EU situation. So it looks like 18th September's the next date for your Eurospat diaries, folks - that'll be when the next power-shift should be taking place, and that's when the crisis (if there is one) will really kick off. Unless, of course, there are any more surprises - and the EU's getting rather good at those of late...

Friday, June 17, 2005

The BBC - Leaders deadlocked on EU budget:
"A deal on the European Union budget looks unlikely after several hours of talks between EU leaders in Brussels failed to bridge differences...

"the summit is growing into a bitter feud about what Europe is for and who should decide its future. Sweden has suggested it may be best to put off any budget decision for a year.

"On Friday morning Mr Chirac said it would not be enough to freeze the British rebate and he wanted to see it scrapped altogether.

"He also said the rebate should 'under no circumstances be linked to a reform of farm expenditure'...

"while some states sympathise with the UK call for agriculture spending reform, none supports the UK's rebate remaining in place."
Chirac is playing hardball. What a cock. But by the looks of things it'll take a little bit more before the rest of Euope gets pissed off with him enough to start backing Blair. Which, considering Blair's also a cock, is probably fair enough.

The tale of Princess Tony and the ugly face man - genius.

Today's Iranian elections: Cheat Sheet from Foreign Policy, Fair Vote Watch on the US administration's attitude, and Open Democracy on why, despite the apparent attitude of the US, these elections are so important.

The Guardian - Blair wins budget allies as EU summit puts constitution on ice:
"In remarks that will be seized on by Eurosceptics, Mr Juncker insisted that the treaty could not be renegotiated and he suggested that French and Dutch voters had not said no. 'I really believe the French and Dutch did not vote no to the constitutional treaty,' he said."
Nice one, Jean-Claude.

Here's a prime example of why I drifted away from being Eurosceptic. I mean, who'd want to be associated with someone like this?

This pompous idiot appears as the main pictoral illustration to this article on Der Spiegel's English language site about the current rebate spat. (Which is actually rather a nice overview, if you haven't got bored of it already.) But is this how our European cousins really see us? Christ... No wonder they don't take us seriously in negotiations. This sort of thing really does tend to stop me from having any pride in being British anymore - largely because that kind of ostentatious gloating is entirely against the traditional national character. What a tit. Defending Britain by acting in an entirely un-British manner - and misplacing apostrophes to boot. Nice one.
Update - national identity discussions aplenty at Stumbling and Mumbling.

The government: abject bastards (part 4,572)

And here's me thinking that Blair and co were too busy charging off all round the world to pay any attention to that irrelevant little island which pays their wages.

Yep - they've gone and done it. Not only have they passed the law banning a single individual from protesting outside the Houses of Parliament but (no doubt following the same logic as they did with the detention without trial debacle where they decided that they couldn't be seen to be discriminating against foreigners so gave themselves the right to lock us all up without warning) they've arbitrarily expanded the no protest zone as far as Embankment Tube and Lambeth Bridge.

As Robin Grant (in a rather nice piece complete with maps and everything) and Tim Ireland point out, this freedom of speech exclusion zone covers the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry and Labour Party HQ.

You can add to that London Underground HQ, the London Eye, the Saachi Gallery, Horseguards and Tate Britain. Pissed off the tubes aren't working properly? You can't take your protest to them any more. Angry at the latest nominees for the Turner Prize? Better not shout any abuse at Tracey Emin. A republican? You can no longer shout at the Queen during Trooping the Colour. Want to lend your voice to Mayor of London Ken Livingstone's campaign to keep the Eye on its current site? Better watch out - you could end up in gaol.

What counts as a political protest anyway? That standard student uniform of a Che T-shirt? A charity wristband? A Rememberance Sunday poppy, necessitating the arrest of the entire Royal family, government and all the top military brass? Who knows?

Well, as Robin notes, they've left us a handy way to find out:

"it might be interpreted by some as a form of protest itself, if a group of say, 50 responsible citizens, wanting to avoid committing ‘serious organised crime’, were to apply for authorisation to demonstrate (for example they might be walking from the tube to St James’ park wearing their white band), everyday for a month. I imagine it might take up quite a bit of police time"

Thursday, June 16, 2005

International Relations and Security Network - Iran prepares for presidential elections - looks like it's between a pro-Western ex-president pushing for economic reform, a reformist looking for religious, political, economic and social liberalisation and a nationalist conservative former police chief who wanted to arrest student protestors in 1999. They vote tomorrow.

Watch the European Council live online

Chicken Yoghurt - Hit me baby one more time:
"The government think the public are dickheads."
Our man Justin seems to have got all angry again. He'll give himself a hernia one of these days, you mark my words...

EUpolitix - New EU budget blueprint unveiled - too much to summarise, but some interesting suggestions.

The Guardian - The rebate explained - tip-top .pdf graphic showing all EU contributions/receipts of the various member states.

European Tribune's looking very promising (and apparently it was only launched earlier this week). Their Euro News briefing for today sums up a lot of the stuff you need to know - rather sweetly accompanied with gasps of amazement at how open and collaborative European politics seems to the American author. (Hint: if you think that, you aren't looking closely enough...) Once they expand their contributor base with a few more country-specific specialists it could have a lot of potential.

An utterly unrelated geek post

Doubtless there'll be proper content later, what with this being EU summit day and all, but for now that bastard over at Chicken Yoghurt has landed me one of those chain blog meme wotsits. So here goes.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (Assume you also get baseline superhero enhancements like moderately increased strength, endurance and agility.)

If you can't fly, you aren't a superhero. That simple. (Take note Batman you pussy - a dinky iddle cape and a grappling hook don't cut it). Although I suppose I could get hold of one of those flight rings the Teen Titans or one of that lot had (Update - apparently it was the Legion of Superheroes). Or better yet a Green Lantern Corps power ring that lets me fly and do all kinds of shit. Yep - I'll have one of them (probably Kyle Rayner era so there isn't any difficulty with yellow or wood or anything). And I want the ability to make clones of myself like Multiple Man, so that I can send one to the office while I head down the pub.

Which, if any, "existing" superhero(es) do you fancy, and why?

Jennie-Lynn Hayden, aka Jade, daughter of Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green lantern and (apparently - I haven't read comics for a while) now wife of Kyle Rayner, the current Green Lantern. Bastard. It's the green skin thing, probably. (Although bizarrely I've never fancied She-Hulk...)

Which, if any, "existing" superhero(es) do you hate?

G'nort. But that's probably a bit obvious.

OK, here's the tough one. What would your superhero name be? (No prefab porn-name formulas here, you have to make up the name you think you'd be proud to mask under.)

Amazoid the Fantabulous. Or Eric. (Update - I've just been reminded that I adpoted the superhero identity "Knife-Stick Man" while at university. It involved running around London with a bunch of knives gaffer-taped to a stick. I did in fact create said weapon, and many acquaintances were terrified. There was no costume bar a rather fetching dressing gown.)

For extra credit: Is there an "existing" superhero with whom you identify/whom you would like to be?

The Red Bee. And I quote: "The Red Bee... has no superpowers except for an uncanny ability to train/control bees." Fuckin' A.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

No idea how long European Tribune has been going but I only came across it today and it looks to be not only worth a look but already quite popular. Probably because it was apparently set up by a bunch of Yanks who are interested in European politics. It seems to be a Daily Kos style set-up, though whether it's a Kossack spin-off like New European Times (which has apparently been rebranded, so I should probably update the blogroll) I have no idea.

From there I've also come across a (rather excessively sparse) European blogosphere wiki with almost no familiar names and a bunch of people I've never heard of, plus Germany-based Sign and Sight - which I think I saw a while back but failed to link. It has an interesting article on The Franco-German relationship which looks well worth a look when I have more time.

Blood & Treasure - the great crusade: fat cows and the dilettante economy:
"Linking the CAP to African poverty has more to do with gaining the moral high ground in the EU’s endless rounds of backbiting than it does with anything going on in Africa."

Observer blog - Europe, the plan:
"measures to bring EU institutions closer to the people they are supposed to represent"

Treaties, constitutions, referenda, rebates and CAP reform

The French and Dutch rejections of the constitutional treaty and the spat over the CAP and British rebate cannot be separated. Both are – at least in theory – to do with the future of the EU post-enlargement. Both should also, of course, have been dealt with over a year ago, before the expansion to 25 member states.

With last year’s enlargement, the hodge-podge of EU treaties needed to be redrawn and consolidated – hence the constitutional treaty. Treaty rethinks were never as immediately necessary as reform of the financial basis of the Union, but it did seem more likely to be the thing on which everyone could agree, and therefore form the basis of the more important financial rethinks. With the French and Dutch referendum results it turns out agreement even on the political basis of the EU wasn’t possible.

Still, the EU can soldier on under the existing arrangements without too much trouble. But without a serious rethink of the financial base of the Union, chaos and resentment were always likely – with the accession of a number of less well-off countries current CAP payment levels could simply never be maintained. This should have been the first thing to be tackled – not the redrafting of old treaties which, though flawed, still just about work.

The new member states should not fund Britain’s rebate; nor should they fund France’s CAP handouts. Times have changed significantly since both the rebate and the CAP were agreed, and the terms of both should be redrawn to take account of the new situation.

Without the rebate, Britain would end up contributing more than Germany. Considering the countries’ relative wealth, this would hardly be fair. But with the rebate, Britain’s net contributions (per capita) are a little under a third that of the Netherlands (47 to 121 euros per head). The UK also pays less net per capita than Sweden, Luxembourg and Belgium. You can understand why they might be a tad miffed. All these countries are – by GDI – less well off than Britain. Apply the same financing rules to the EU25, and the rebate becomes even less fair.

It isn’t just Britain, of course, France gets more CAP handouts than its fair share, so grievances are valid there too. But, and it’s important not to forget this amidst all the rhetoric, France is still a net contributor. More unfair still is the Irish situation, where Eire gets more EU handouts per capita than any other member state, despite now being one of the richest.

But as long as EU countries insist on retaining their vetoes, an agreement is likely to be impossible, as a redrawn, “fairer” financial structure would inevitably be to the benefit of the poorer members and the detriment of the wealthy likes of Britain and France. Without some of the wealthier countries like Britain and France being prepared to make even more of a financial sacrifice, as Germany has already done, it simply cannot work.

Yet whereas Britain’s rebate benefits primarily the British government, France’s CAP handouts go direct to the people and specifically the powerful farming lobby. As such, Chirac is in a far trickier position – any concessions on his part would directly affect the French voter.

Blair, however, can concede the rebate without too much of a financial impact on us voters – all he needs to do is avoid launching any more illegal wars and he'd save the money easily. Britain’s sacrifice could then act as concrete proof that the wealthier EU states can afford to live without the handouts by cutting a bit of budgetary flab at home.

The UK would then also no longer be seen as a selfish and reluctant member of the EU club. Instead France would find itself more resented and isolated as the country which not only was the first to reject the constitution, but also refused to make concessions for the good of the rest of the EU. Britain’s bargaining position, with a weakened France and as one of the principle financial contributors, would then be vastly improved, and the British “vision” for the EU, if such a thing exists, would be far easier to promote – especially as neither Chirac nor Schröder are likely to be around much longer, and relationships are already being built with their likely successors.

(Note - final two paragraphs slightly re-edited since first posted)

The New Republic (reg. or BugMeNot req.) - Updates From the World's Tyrannical Outposts:
"we should be paying more attention to despotic lands. But who, in truth, has the time? ... We're pleased to present our readers with a summary of world events as seen through the eyes of Cuba, North Korea, Burma, Belarus, Libya, Syria, and other select dictatorships. Now our readers can stay fully informed with minimal effort."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Times - Blair puts boot in over rebate by marching to moral high ground and Forget the gloating, everyone needs to look to the future and Lords have set out map to keep EU on the road

The Guardian - 'Sharp disagreement' at Blair-Chirac talks
Blair: "If people want a reconsideration of the rebate, they've got to reconsider the reasons for rebate"

Fair Vote Watch - The emerging European demos and Spiked - From Europe to America: the populist moment has arrived

Courtesy of Mr Justin "Chicken Yoghurt" McKeating (not just for the idea, but also the code, and then a fair while of fiddling with my shoddily-arranged template), a brand-spanking-new feature - fancy little boxout things like this in which I'll be whacking links and stuff to things that catch my eye which I either lack the knowledge or the time to do longer posts on, but which are worth a look. Hurrah!

EU High Noon

A breeze sweeps in off the plains, kicking up little eddies of dust in the rutted main street of the ramshackle township. The weather-beaten faces of grizzled onlookers gaze towards the saloon doors. They smash open, and a bespurred foot clumps out onto the boardwalk. A horse whinneys. The wounded gunslinger Mad Jacques staggers out into the glare of the midday sun, adjusts the brim of his stetson, steadies his footing and waits.

The crowd looks on, the faint murmer of their gossip barely audible above the creak of the shop signs. They long for a sheriff, but there is none, not in this place - not since those bad experiences with the Austrian and the Corsican. The winner of this little spat could determine all their fates - but they are rooting for neither party in this fight.

Then the chug and whistle of the noon train wafts in from the distance, getting closer... closer... With a screech and a flurry of smoke it grinds to a halt in the makeshift station. The shootist known only as "Tony" leaps down from his carriage, raises his head and gives the assembled masses a broad, insincere grin. "Hi guys!"

Yep, much like a certain classic movie, the build-up has seemed to drag for ages, the tension is at a peak, and neither of the people the plot revolves around seem to have too much support. But this time, as Chirac and Blair square up, it's impossible to work out who's Gary Cooper, as no one seems wholeheartedly prepared to give complete back up to either of them.

Tony's been chatting up the likely next German Chancellor, but she's not going to be much help until September. Mad Jaques, meanwhile, has the loose support of Gerhard the German - a rickety former brawler now well past his prime and unwilling to get involved in any more big fights - who'll probably simply back the winner in a quest for a quiet retirement.

Everyone's expecting a showdown. But what they don't seem to realise is that both gunslingers have loaded up with dodgy bullets and their powder's damp. Rather than either party landing a kill shot - or even winging their opponent - they're going to have to resort to hair-pulling and name-calling. Both will come away looking ridiculous, and no one will have got anywhere.

Meanwhile, out of the sun at the back of the saloon, some shadowy figures are busy scribbling away, plotting out what to do when impotence and unpopularity finally take the two men squaring off outside out of the glare of public attention and the township can get back to trying to clean itself up.

(Oh, and thankfully European Democracy has picked apart the financial figures so I don't have to - well worth a look - even though it gave me another headache...)

Monday, June 13, 2005

The CAP and the future of the EU

The more I try and work out how the EU budget could be made "fair", the more confused I get. I'm going to keep working on it, but at the moment every time I find some new information or a new perspective my brain starts protesting at the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions and I get a sharp, jabbing pain just behind my eyebrows, spiking down through my eyes and curving through to the nape of my neck, where it seems to do some kind of clog dance.

As such, have a gander at a couple of interesting pieces not by me while I crawl off to find some asprin:

Both have the benefit of not including any numbers whatsoever (well, except for the dates), and so don't hurt my brain. And considering I'm off to see a preview of Batman Begins this evening I really, really don't want my brain hurting..

Update - Just noticed a couple of other relatively number-free posts of interest:

"A showdown is looming"

This is fun.

Does Chirac's cheek know no bounds? Blair's claims that without the rebate Britain would be paying 15 times more than France to the EU (rather than just 2.5 times) are actually pretty much accurate. Yet Chirac still has the gaul (geddit?!?) to say that "Our British friends must be aware of how things are changing and therefore of the necessity of a greater fairness in the burden carried by each (member)".

So, what's the likely outcome? God knows.

Chirac can't do the decent thing and agree to Blair's calls for a rethink of the entire EU budget as this would mean France would end up having to pay more. He's just lost a major EU referendum, and the thinking in a number of quarters is that a large part of this was thanks to the proposed constitution bringing about a reduction of France's overly privileged position within the EU structure. Even though he knows full well that he's out on his proverbial posterior come the next French elections no matter what he does, he's not going to be prepared to go down in history as the guy who relegated France to a second-rate EU power, which is how any concessions would be portrayed by his opponents.

Blair, meanwhile, knows that to give up any part of Britain's rebate would make any future votes on any aspect of the EU even more unwinnable, as even with the rebate there is a lot of resentment over how little cash Britain gets back from Brussels, and how little (especially in comparison to France) the UK gets out of the EU project in general. If our Tony starts giving anything away he's going to build up an immense amount of resentment which could very easily give the Tories a superb platform with which to get back to power - even if the next general election is four/five years away. The Tories would instantly be able to claim "We won the rebate - Labour gave it away". Especially considering there are numerous signs that the economy is likely to get into trouble sometime soon, this could be a double blow for a Labour party led by Gordon Brown, who as the guy in charge of our finances would naturally also attract much of the blame.

But there is a chance that more support could come Britain's way. The Dutch are also moaning about the size of their contributions, and the longer this drags out, the more likely it is that other countries will start to look more rationally at the whole EU budget business. At the moment the rebate is a blatantly obvious, easily identifiable point of resentment, as it must seem odd that one of the richest member states gets such a large lump sum back from Brussels. But if they start to think about it for a moment they'll surely see that the amount of money France gets through other means is significantly greater in its unfairness. At that point, we could find ourselves with a situation whereby the rest of the EU start teaming up against both Britain AND France, and start telling us both to get stuffed.

Of course, for a numerical illiterate like me it's fairly hard to work out what a "fair" budgetary system for the EU would actually involve. It's all overly confusing even to people who understand the thing. Labour MEP Terry Wynne has some handy tables and explanations and the like trying to give an idea of how the thing works. Judging by that, it's not going to be easy.

The only thing that is certain is that, as two of the richest member states, Britain and France should - by the fundamental logic of the thing - be paying out rather more than the poorer ones. It's a kind of Robin Hood take-from-the-rich, give-to-the-poor scenario (or dangerously socialist, if you're that way inclined). At the moment, however, it is - as so often - France which is getting by far the best deal. It is, therefore, towards France that any resentment should really be directed. As I optimistically semi-predicted last month,

"France has continued to hold an influence in excess of her size or economic might ever since the 1950s, and a French “Non” would simply make this even clearer to the other EU member states. They would see France as voting against to maintain her own power, not for the good of the Union - and in subsequent renegotiations, France would find herself with too much resentment and opposition to get her way, just as would Britain."
The longer Chirac refuses to even consider the prospect of a rethink, the more the irritation with France will rise. While this may not mean that Britain gets her way, it should at least mean that the French are forced into making some kind of concession. If not, it could be France, rather than Britain, which becomes the black sheep of the EU family.

With enlargement, the rebate was always going to have to be rethought. But so was the rest of the EU budget. Chirac is playing a very dangerous game, and one that is likely to backfire. Meanwhile, all Blair has to do is hold out and keep pinning the blame on Paris, and he should be able to sort something out. It won't be as good a deal as we've currently got, but post-expansion it was never going to be.

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EU cash flow. France gets a shitload back in the other direction EU--->Member state, whereas Britain gets less. This is not however personal against Britain - it is a consequence of the fact that EU spends a lot of money on agricultural subsidies (~40% of the budget).

Now, when I'm arguing that the "rebate" is unfair, I'm not talking about France losing money. It's because there are plenty of other EU states (Sweden, Netherlands etc) that don't have any agriculture either, but they don't get a rebate.

I fully agree with you that the preferred system would be a percentage of GDP. Or perhaps something like a tax at Union level (it would skip the middle hands, thus possibly saving money).

In context, the ones that really get screwed are the Germans.

3 Germany 2,906,658
4 United Kingdom 2,295,039
5 France 2,216,273

Germany has a slightly higher GDP than UK/France, while they are paying far more. The reason for this is that they've been open to compromise to further European integration. France and UK on the other hand have gained advantages through obstructionism and direct blackmail. (Although Germany did the same with the stability pact, which pissed the Dutch off).